Room (2015) – Film Review
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
by Jen Grimble
David Fincher explores the concept in Panic Room, Sidney Lumet in 12 Angry Men and Hitchcock in too many films to name. I’m talking about the notion of a story unfolding within four walls. Where space is limited and movements reduced, the entire dynamic of a film shifts. While the characters of some of these movies are free to leave their singular spaces at any time, others are trapped against their will. It is the latter concept that Lenny Abrahamson explores in his latest offering, Room.
The Oscar-nominated drama is a seminar in the one-space model. The Aristotelian unities of a singular subject told within a singular space. Room explores the impact of fear and isolation on the human mind. Its characters wrestle with their emotions within the cramped confines of four walls. Abrahamson’s examination of injustice and ‘the fight’ are what drives the film forward and makes it so vividly persuasive. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, the film looks at the very interior of human behaviour.
We enter the movie with shots of a seemingly normal mother and son, having dinner, playing games, watching TV. The mood is light, somewhat uninteresting. Yet when night falls the family dynamic changes and things turn sinister. As five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lies awake in the wardrobe, an entry code is typed into a nearby security lock. Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) enters for his nightly visit to ‘Room.’ Seven years earlier he kidnaps Jo (Brie Larson), now known only as Ma, and locks her in an outbuilding no bigger than a garden shed. Now Ma and her son Jack spend their days trapped inside. With the arrival of Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma begins to show him that there is a world outside ‘Room’.
“Captures the turmoil of loss”
As the action unfolds we are dragged into a game of voyeurism and suspense, reminiscent of Rear Window, Panic Room and Phonebooth. We watch as these two characters play out their method of escape. From Jack watching through the slits in the wardrobe, to Old Nick’s monitoring of his captives, Room repetitively brings the audience back to secret observation.
Using light, patterns and reflections to highlight the passing of time and the internal isolation of the main characters, Room captures the turmoil of loss and the resilience of the human spirit. It is at times heart-wrenching and cold, in others weighty, warm and loving. Without the profound performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, the film would lose some of its impact. These two actors sell the story, grip the audience, and steer the whole plot to its conclusion.
Room is an exploration of a modern dystopia, where its characters are entirely disconnected from civilisation, in both a social and technological sense. It mocks the standard idea of the nuclear family, while somehow remaining very much a story about love. With his fifth feature length movie Lenny Abrahamson masters not only the art of audience engagement, but of cinematic storytelling. It makes Room his finest accomplishment to date.